Top Ten Comic Characters of 2012
2012 Year End Lists
#10: Doctor Octopus
Doctor Octopus has always been one of the most divisive members of Spider-Man's rogues gallery. Is he Peter's second most deadly arch-nemesis or is he a scrub in dire need of a few weeks on Atkins? In 2012, Amazing Spider-Man writer Dan Slott settled the argument in favor of the former. In fact, with his latest master plan, Doc Ock has essentially stared down the Green Goblin, dropped the mic, and walked off stage. Trapped in a deteriorating body, ravaged by numerous beatings (most at the hands of Spider-Man), Doctor Octopus had mere days to live. So imagine Peter's horror when he woke up trapped inside of Doctor Octopus's decrepit form, while his enemy's consciousness resided in his body complete with all of Pete's memories and access to his friends and allies. Spider-Man has a long tradition of escaping from death traps with impossible odds stacked against him, but with a huge status quo change right around the corner, and Slott's announcement that Pete will no longer be the one under the mask come January, Doctor Octopus's latest plan has taken on a very ominous feel.
#9: Becky Montcrief
2011 was a big year for Becky Montcrief, the heroine of Cullen Bunn and Brian Hurtt's The Sixth Gun, however it was nothing compared to 2012. Ever since she came into possession of her father's immensely powerful demonic pistol, Becky Montcrief has been on the run, battling the forces of light and darkness alike who would kill her so that they might control the Six. However Becky always had strong male allies to help and guide her along the way. Chief among them was the roguish outlaw Drake Sinclair who was something of an expert on the pistols. However when Drake was captured by the Knights of Solomon, Becky found herself on her own, under the somewhat strong handed protection of the Knights of Abraham, a so-called force for good. When Becky was informed that she would not be allowed to leave their protection to go looking for Sinclair, set out on her own. Singlehandedly, Becky tracked Drake to the mysterious town called Penance. There she fought her way through a civil war between the town's demonically mutated populace, displaying an unprecedented control of her cursed pistol and gun slinging skills honed during months of constant pursuit and danger. Her victory was quickly tainted by horror when the young boy who had been her only friend in Penance was consumed by the evil of the Gun. Reeling from exhaustion and her failure to save her innocent friend, Becky fought her way into the stronghold of the Knights of Solomon to rescue Drake Sinclair. The Town Called Penance arc was a major turning point for Becky, cementing her growth from innocent farm girl into gun-slinging bad ass with blood on her soul.
#8: Doctor Strange
Even if nothing else had happened for the character in 2012, Doctor Strange's regaining his role as Sorcerer Supreme of the Marvel Universe would be worth mentioning in any discussion of big character moments. That he was the center of Brian Michael Bendis' final arc as writer of the Avengers franchise was also a sign of the character's prominence. But the true reason Doctor Strange makes this list is the one least likely to be on readers' radars (and the one most worth paying attention to): his role at the center of Matt Fraction's tragically short-lived Defenders. The book's final issue recast many of the events of the series through the lens of a hole at the core of Stephen Strange, a painfully lonely man yearning for contact yet restrained by past tragedy. Strange was a vital member of the team (which also included Namor, Silver Surfer, Iron Fist, Red She-Hulk, and eventually Ant-Man, Black Cat, and even Nick Fury) throughout the book, yet its climax was his finest moment, forcing him to rewrite history to prevent the destruction of, well, everything. It was a great show of the character's power, to be sure, but also an example of man's ability to change, even if every improvement is hard won. "Once upon a time, an angry man came hunting for a sad man," but because of the latter's inherent capacity for change, universes were changed by one small act of kindness.
#7: John Constantine
John Constantine's reintroduction into the DC Universe proper was rather uneventful until he took control of the Justice League Dark. And while setting Constantine up as the leader of a team, especially one with "Justice League" in the title, might sound blasphemous to hardcore fans of the character, the execution has given the chain smoking Brit a level of prominence he hasn't enjoyed in years. Writer Jeff Lemire has shown fans that DC's master manipulator is at his most interesting and most dangerous when he is pulling the strings of a slew of DC's most powerful magic based characters. With Constantine in charge, the Justice League Dark was transformed from a reluctant band of disorganized misfits, into a terrifyingly powerful force to be reckoned with, (albeit still composed of misfits). What makes Constantine so unique among his DC contemporaries is that he brings his team together through deceit and strong arming. His recruitment of his former lover Zatanna is particularly nefarious, as he deceives her by promising the return of her beloved Father's hat in exchange for her involvement. And if reassembling this squad with a collection of lies and half truths wasn't cause enough for inclusion on this list, than outfoxing Felix Faust, the traitorous government mage Dr. Mist, and his own mentor Nick Necro certainly sealed the deal. Lemire ended Constantine's banner year with the most interesting revelation to date when fellow teammate Black Orchid discovered that Constantine is keeping files, not just on his "teammates" but on most of the DC Universe's heroes. While 2012 was the year to watch Constantine, 2013 may just be the year to watch out for him.
Betsy Braddock had a tough year by any metric"”coming off a conflict that forced her to kill her lover Warren Worthington (and then watch him be reborn with no memories of their time together), Psylocke was almost immediately forced to kill her brother Jamie to protect the multiverse from destruction. Before the dust had settled from either of those conflicts, Betsy was forced to contend with the love of Fantomex and his near-immediate death, a future version of herself that serves as leader to a totalitarian regime with an Orwellian pre-crime unit based on the team she is currently a part of, and the reappearance of the Shadow King, one of her greatest foes. Through it all, Psylocke maintained her grim determination and her willingness to do what is necessary to protect the world"”but few have sacrificed as much, or had their psyches as wracked, by both tragedy and literal psychic violation, as Betsy Braddock.
Hawkeye has always been a bit of a hard sell to non-hardcore Avengers fans. After all, he is just an ordinary guy with a bow and arrow. What possible business does he have standing side by side with Hulk and Thor? But therein lies the hook of the character. As Matt Fraction and David Aja have been detailing in their critically acclaimed series Hawkeye, what makes Clint Barton special is his compulsion to do good, whether that means facing down alien invaders or russian mobsters. Hawkeye is the everyman of the Avengers. He spends his days off living among the ordinary people he and his teammates protect, and helping them with problems that fall well below the mandate of the Avengers. And while Clint is, at heart a good guy, Fraction has shown readers that the most fascinating aspect of the character is how often he screws himself over with his terrible decisions. Hawkeye is very human, not just in terms of his lack of super powers, but in his fallibility. This makes his dynamic with sidekick Kate Bishop (also called Hawkeye) all the more compelling and charming, as aside from archery tips, Kate has little to learn from him, and should actually be mentoring Clint on how to get his life together. With numerous cancelled solo series in his wake, 2012 was a year of catharsis for fans of the character as Matt Fraction and David Aja have proven that Hawkeye is more than ready for the spotlight.
Taking on Joker is always a great challenge for any Bat-writer. With so many iconic interpretations floating around in pop culture (performances by Cesar Romero, Jack Nicholson, Mark Hamill, and Heath Ledger, plus iterations scribed by comic titans like Alan Moore and Grant Morrison), it can seem impossible to come up with a take on the character that is both unique and a testament to his iconic status as the greatest villain in all of comics. Pressure was compounded by the decision to take Joker off the board for the first year of the DCnU, and by the announcement that Scott Snyder was extending his run on Batman past the court of the owls storyline to tackle Joker's return in Death of the Family. The story is a perfect construction to allow the character to shine"”steeped in references to his past acts of madness yet brimming with the potential horrors he will soon unleash. Joker is back, and this evolution both begs Batman to recall all of their past battles and forces him to contend with a new plot that threatens to take everything from him. Scott Snyder's Joker has everything that makes the character great"”brutal unpredictability, shocking foresight, a mordant wit and ties to the Dark Knight that run deeper than Batman likes to acknowledge. When Joker claims he will take everything from Batman, he is perhaps the one person capable of backing that claim up, the greatest villain of all time in the midst of a plan that may go down as one of his best.
#3: Wonder Woman
There have been a lot of great developments in comics over the course of 2012, but few feel as momentous as Wonder Woman, who in DC's New 52 re-launch has finally earned her place alongside Superman and Batman as one of DC's tent-pole characters. A slight change in her backstory (erasing her original origin as a clay figure brought to life by the magic of the Gods and positing her as the offspring of a brief dalliance between Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons and Zeus), and a dramatic shift in tone have made her book one of the best comics on the stands right now, recasting her as a god-like warrior in a conflict with actual gods, an unwilling member of the most dysfunctional family in all of mythology. On the surface, wrapping Diana in the trappings of an established mythology may seem like a cheap way to give her the significance of DC's other major characters, but under the guidance of creative team Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang, we have seen Diana prove her worth time and again. Whether she is risking everything to protect the newborn daughter of her friend Zola, outsmarting Hades in his own realm, or doing battle with Apollo and living to tell the tale, there is no question that Diana is one of the greatest heroes in the DCnU, and watching her combine her skills as a warrior with her deftness as a political operative (in the densely partisan pantheon she now calls a family) has made her both a threat to fear and a hero to admire"”a woman of moral rectitude enough that her recent romantic pairing with Superman is realistic, and of sheer force enough that when she fights a God and lives to tell the tale, it seems more inevitable than implausible.
The Norse God of Chaos has been a mainstay of Marvel villainy for decades, tormenting his brother Thor and the Marvel Universe at large. But the last few years have seen Loki resurrected as a child, with all of the promise for change that implies. Over the course of 2012, in Kieron Gillen's phenomenal Journey Into Mystery Loki attempted to remake himself into a hero, changing what he could about himself and trying to use his natural affinity for duplicity as a weapon for good. Whether he was outsmarting the Lords of Fear, acting on behalf of Asgardia in a battle between two pantheons, or literally bargaining with various incarnations of the Devil, Loki remained two steps ahead of his foes and tried his damndest to do what was right. All of his struggles to better himself came to a head as Gillen's run on the title wrapped up in the fantastic event Everything Burns, where Loki was forced to deal with the consequences of his lies and come up against the limits of his own intellect. Ultimately, Journey Into Mystery ended as it began"”with Loki doing battle against his greatest foe, himself, and winning a hard-won victory at great cost, both internally and to the world at large.
While the character had been on this trajectory for several years now, 2012 accelerated Cyclops's evolution into one of the most fascinating and morally complicated characters in comics. The year began with Scott riding herd over the immensely powerful "Extinction Team" in Kieron Gillen's Uncanny X-Men. The fact that the most minor of Scott's accomplishments in 2012 was that the likes of Magneto and Prince Namor unquestioningly followed him to battle shows you just how far ol' "Slim" Summer has come since his days as the boy scout of the X-Men. However, this was just the beginning, and soon readers were treated to the pay off of years of build up when Scott ordered his army of X-Men to go to war with the Avengers in Marvel's summer blockbuster Avengers vs. X-Men. While Scott had walked a worrisome line between hero and villain for awhile, he crossed the Rubicon by staring down Captain America and refusing to turn over the mutant messiah and likely future Pheonix host Hope in the interest of national security. Scott had proven himself time and time again as the most effective leader the X-Men have ever seen, but now the entire Marvel Universe was forced to stand up and take notice of his strategic mastery and iron determination as he waged a successful war against Captain America and the Avengers on both the battlefield and in the court of public opinion. Events took a turn when Scott and four of his allies became Phoenix hosts and set out to remake the world. As his friends were consumed by the power, Scott held on longer than any of them, maintaining control over one of the most powerful forces in the entire cosmos. He finally cracked under the pressure during a combined assault of Avengers and X-Men and became Dark Phoenix. In a fit of rage he murdered Charles Xavier and finally understood the ordeal experienced by his dead lover Jean Grey. However triumph was born from tragedy when Scott was informed that the final outcome of the battle was a resurgence in Mutant births. At first content to remain a political prisoner or martyr, Scott eventually ordered Magneto to break him out of prison, resolute in the knowledge that while he had much to atone for, he had saved mutant kind, and was the only man capable of making the hard calls to keep them safe.